Player of the Week
Perhaps feeling a little overshadowed by his younger brother (who's making a lot of noise in Indiana); Tyler Zeller took it upon himself to explode Saturday against Appalachian State for 31 points. Granted, that's not exactly the best competition, but this performance is noteworthy nonetheless, and I've been meaning to give Zeller his due on this blog for a while now. The mobile 7-footer has a number of well-known weaknesses, but lately, there appears to have been a little progression. When describing Zeller, most of his critics will tell you that he lacks the toughness and aggressiveness to be a good defensive rebounder, and... this is still true. But Zeller has upped his rebounding average per 40 minutes from 10.3 a year ago to 11.7 this season. This is partially due to the added weight he's put on over the summer. Another improvement of Zeller’s has been his passing ability. I've always felt that Tyler was too skilled to not be at least an average passer, and it looks like he's finally becoming a bit more comfortable kicking the ball out when he gets double-teamed. In the 318 minutes he’s played this season, Zeller has recorded 15 assists. That's already half of the 30 assists he dished out in his previous 1,511 minutes of playing time (his entire junior and sophomore seasons combined). Oddly enough, 13 of his 15 assists this season have been in his last five games. He only had two assists in the previous seven. Hm. I don't know what caused this sudden bout of generosity (might be Christmas related), but I'm sure his teammates appreciate it. Regardless, it's nice to see Zeller starting to round out his game. Passing is a very underrated skill for offensive-minded bigs, and hopefully he can keep it up.
Though he's been a bit more erratic than Duke fans may be comfortable with, Austin Rivers has shown off an incredible amount of talent for the Blue Devils in his first (and possibly only) season. Rivers combines a lightning-quick first step with a super-sweet jump shot to annihilate defenders in one-on-one situations. In his last three games, Rivers has averaged 17.8 points on 47.1% shooting from the field and 47.3% shooting from behind the arc. The star freshman should only continue to improve offensively as the season progresses. But as with any freshman, there are several weaknesses in Rivers' game. His defense could stand to improve, as he was visibly overmatched when trying to guard Tony Wroten Jr. last Saturday. Experience and strength will be the key components to Rivers developing into a better defender, but I guess there's plenty of time for that. In the short-term he'll be more focused on scoring points to help his team win, a skill he’s already quite gifted at.
Yeah, Barnes doesn't really deserve to be here. He blew up for his best game of the season on Wednesday with 26 and 10 against Texas. He's also had a solid all around start to the season and has National Player of the Year potential. In UNC's previous two games, however, Barnes hasn't did not eclipse double-digits. He averaging 9 points per game on 33.3% shooting from the field, 25% shooting behind the arc and 20.0% shooting from the free-throw line. Not his best performances, that's for sure. Luckily, these weren't difficult matchups, and his teammates picked up the slack. Perhaps the lackluster numbers were due to boredom, as Barnes typically performs his best under pressure. That's why I can't wait until conference play, where every team (except for maybe Boston College) can at least compete. That's where we'll see the real Harrison Barnes.
Top 5 ACC Seniors:
1. Tyler Zeller - There aren't a lot of big-name seniors in the conference this season, but Tyler Zeller fits into that category well. So well, in fact, that virtually anybody who follows college basketball at all could give you an entire scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses. There's little doubt that he's the top senior NBA prospect in the ACC.
2. Mike Scott - Scott is a major stud, and he's really taken advantage of his second senior season. The double-double machine has propelled the Cavaliers close to the top of the ACC standings with a 9-1 record. Virginia is starting to get a little more national recognition now and could continue to climb the top-25 rankings if they stay hot.
3. Bernard James - Placing James on this list is a little cheap, as he's a few years older than the typical senior (he'll be 27 in February), but that doesn't change the fact that he's a game-changer. Most of his value comes from his defensive ability, which works well for Florida State. Offensively he's limited, but he uses his size well and can finish around the rim.
4. Malcolm Grant - He's having a rough start to the season, but Malcolm Grant is both electric and talented. I think he was really missing Reggie Johnson, whose inside presence takes a lot off of Miami's backcourt. Grant is scoring 15.1 points per game, but is only managing to shoot 38% from the field (down from 42% last season). Hopefully these numbers pick back up, now that Johnson is back.
5. Andre Young - Young is short in stature, but he might be the most prolific shooter in the conference. He shoots over six triples a game, and impressively enough, makes 38% of them. The Clemson Tigers are definitely struggling, but you can't really blame that on their 5'9" point guard.
Miami center Reggie Johnson returned sooner-than-expected from an offseason knee surgery to help the Hurricanes win in double overtime against Florida Atlantic. He scored 15 points with 9 rebounds and 5 assists in his season debut ... More good news for Miami, as athletic forward DeQuan Jones has overturned his suspension and is expected to play on Thursday ... North Carolina is undefeated over the last two years when guard Kendall Marshall records at least nine assists (13-0) ... CJ Leslie made a game-winning shot with 0.6 seconds to play after a full-court pass from teammate CJ Williams to help NC State beat St. Bonaventure by a final score of 67-65 ... The teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference have won 19 of their last 20 games. The only loss came from the top-ranked team in the nation, as Syracuse knocked off NC State last Wednesday ... Florida State will face-off against #12 Florida this Thursday at 7:00 EST on ESPNU in what is sure to be an interesting matchup ... Happy Holidays everybody! ...